books, tech, lessons from a librarian

Month: December 2016

Who will take these notes with me? Combating Little Red Hen Syndrome

Little Red Hen

The Little Red Hen’s “Who will help me make this bread?” familiar refrain can teach us a lot about collaboration with our peers. Let me set the stage…

The dreaded moment has arrived. You’re in a staff meeting. You’re sitting with a few colleagues at Table 2. You’ve been assigned to read and report on a portion of a chapter from a book you’ve never heard of until about 2 minutes ago. “Have someone in your group take notes so you can share out with the whole group when we reconvene.” And now no one in your group wants to make eye contact with each other. Suddenly a stray piece of fuzz on your pants is the most interesting thing in the world, as you think to yourself, “…Please don’t make me write. Please don’t pick me. Please don’t make me write…” After a few awkward moments, some sacrificial lamb of a teacher offers (or more likely, is offered up) to step into the role of “recorder”. The sad reality is that often “recorder” can be translated as “poor soul who got stuck with the unenviable job of listening to a conversation while simultaneously translating/condensing/transcribing”. The cherry on top? “Who’s sharing out from Table 2?” “…[awkward pause]…[pant fuzz has made a repeat appearance]…[slow realization that the “recorder” is the only one who can truly translate the list of ideas and now they need to share out]…I’ll do it,” you say reluctantly while trying to sound enthusiastic even though you’re still a little annoyed that you didn’t even truly take part in the conversation that you’re about to summarize.

The truth is, you likely aren’t mad at your peers for being put on the spot. Your frustration stems from the feeling of disconnect and missed opportunities for conversation and learning. Our students most likely feel the same way when stuck with learning opportunities that limit collaboration with their peers. As we educators continue to enforce these limitations, we’re also limiting opportunities for our students to develop the invaluable 3-Cs of 21st Century learning and information skills: Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, and Communication and Collaboration. So now what?…

G Suite application iconsG Suite to the rescue! Formerly known as Google Apps For Education (GAFE), G Suite (renamed in Oct. 2016) is the family of Google productivity tools, including Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Classroom, and more. The suite of tools is intact, so why the change in name? When it comes to Google, at times it feels the only constant is change. In 2014 Mark Howe, managing director for agency sales at Google, spoke to the value Google places on change: “We don’t go out to be a disruptive business, but we’re changing the rules all the time because the world is constantly changing… We’re all constantly thinking into the future, rather than thinking incrementally. If you’re only incremental then you’re falling behind immediately.” Howe said that last year Google made 1,100 changes to its search business. “You’ve got to be working fast – if not [the next big thing] will come from someone’s garage and take over. You have to keep running, you can’t slow down and be complacent. Complacency about change will be the death of companies.” (Barnes, 2014)  What can be a frustration for educators is actually a business strategy and way of life for the world of Google.

G Suite app store screen captureOne area where teachers can really struggle with G Suite products is keeping up with the constant churn these changes (frequently made with little or no warning). I recently overheard in a staff lounge: “Just when I get close to figuring out how to use Google Docs, then they go and change it again!” (I didn’t even broach the subject of the GAFE name change for fear of minds being blown!) So how to respond? Professional development is always an important step, though the constant change makes creating tutorials that are meaningful and lasting in their applicability a Herculean task. Luckily for us, earlier this year Google acquired Synergyse (https://portal.synergyse.com/), a company founded by a pair of ex-Google employees. Synergyse’s product consisted of interactive training modules and walkthroughs that were integrated into GAFE applications. Even more luckily for G Suite customers, the same training tools are now available through G Suite Training, a free Chrome add-on available on the Chrome Web Store: G Suite Training  

Watch for this rainbow question mark:  G Suite Training iconBy adding the tool to the Chrome browser, the G Suite Training icon then appears in the Chrome toolbar in all G Suite applications. At any point in any project, you can click on the icon and instantly explore training modules and information — the type of on-demand training and assistance that is necessary in the face of constant change.

The G Suite Training Center is also a great resource for novice users and power users alike: https://gsuite.google.com/learning-center/

G Suite Training Center

These are certainly not the only resources available to help teachers navigate through G Suite tools, but perhaps their greatest value lies in knowing that the training modules and information will adapt and change alongside the tools. There’s no sense in creating step-by-step tutorials that are out-of-date nearly as soon as you share them.

Throughout modern history, top secret development labs (at 3M, Dow/Corning, Lockheed/Martin, Boeing, and the like) have become famous for incubating dynamic and new ideas. Google’s development lab is known as “Google X,” and the pace of change there is staggering. Not only is success not guaranteed, but the failure rate is far higher than many teachers would be comfortable with… “This is the essence of Google X. When the leadership can fail in full view, ‘then it gives everyone permission to be more like that.’ Failure is not precisely the goal at Google X. But in many respects it is the means.” (Gertner, 2014)

So how do we combat the Little Red Hen Syndrome? How do we enable and empower teachers to work together on project development? On collaborative grading and revision? Unlike the beloved folktale, it’s seldom pure laziness on the part of our colleagues that drives our disinterest. Instead, we’ve all been burned too many times by inefficient processes and poor collaborative frameworks. Think back to that initial doomed staff meeting. Why didn’t anyone want to take notes? No one wanted to be stuck in that note-taking role and be removed from the conversation and the learning process. Instead, if the staff had been able to work on a collaborative Google Doc, they each could have recorded their responses, in their own words, in real-time. Just think of the opportunities for going beyond surface level “collaboration” and actually diving into working together collaboratively using G Suite tools. The opportunity to experience learning from the perspective of our students is invaluable. And if things didn’t work perfectly, perfect! We’re following Google’s lead to successfully fail our way towards growth. Though, to be honest, the sentiment sounds a great deal like a poem from 1840…

‘Tis a lesson you should heed,
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try again;

Then your courage should appear,
For if you will persevere,
You will conquer, never fear
Try, try again;

Once or twice, though you should fail,
If you would at last prevail,
Try, try again;

If we strive, ’tis no disgrace
Though we do not win the race;
What should you do in the case?
Try, try again

If you find your task is hard,
Time will bring you your reward,
Try, try again

All that other folks can do,
Why, with patience, should not you?
Only keep this rule in view:
Try, try again.

Thomas H. Palmer (1782–1861)
printer, author, and educational reformer


Barnes, R. (2014, April 2). Google on disruption and looking over your shoulder to the guy in the garage. Retrieved from http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/1288538/google-disruption-looking-shoulder-guy-garage

Carey, J. (2014, July 18). 10 things teachers should know to do with Google Docs. Retrieved from http://www.edudemic.com/10-things-every-teacher-know-google-docs/

Foltos, L. (2013). Enhancing learning by integrating technology. In Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.G Suite on YouTube. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/user/GoogleApps

Gertner, J. (2014, April 15). The truth about Google X: An exclusive look behind the secretive lab’s closed doors | Fast Company. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3028156/united-states-of-innovation/the-google-x-factor

Google. (n.d.). G Suite Learning Center – All the training you need, in one place. Retrieved from https://gsuite.google.com/learning-center/

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). Standards for coaches. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Lardinois, F. (2016, May 2). Google acquires Synergyse, an interactive training service for Google Apps | TechCrunch. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/02/google-acquires-synergyse-an-interactive-training-service-for-google-apps/

Palmer, T. H. (1840). … The teacher’s manual: being an exposition of an efficient and economical system of education suited to the wants of a free people | Internet Archive. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/teachersmanualbe00palm

Rochelle, J. (2016, October 4). Introducing G Suite for Education [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://blog.google/topics/education/introducing-g-suite-education/

Teaching Channel. (n.d.). Fostering student collaboration with Google Docs [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/fostering-student-collaboration

The Little Red Hen
photo by: in pastel
https://www.flickr.com/photos/g-dzilla/5198225154 (CC BY 2.0)


ISTE Coaching Standards

ISTE-C Standard 1:   Visionary Leadership

  1. Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms

ISTE-C Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessment

  1. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences

Peer Coaching: Lessons from Business Leaders

Lessons From Business Leaders: What can educators learn from the private sector about a sustainable peer coaching model?

robert louis stevenson quoteThroughout these past three months I’ve been exploring and practicing the peer coaching model. My professor, Les Foltos, literally wrote the book on the topic. His book, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration (http://amzn.to/2g7WiW7) is a valuable introduction and instruction manual for implementing peer coaching on an individual and school-wide basis. All quarter long I’ve alternated between a sense of overwhelming encouragement and challenge as I’ve worked to implement the peer coaching model into my efforts with teachers and fellow librarians in my district, and I’ve personally struggled with doubts through these initial efforts. Is it worth the effort? Am I truly acting as a peer coach or am I falling into comfortable habits of enabling learned helplessness when it comes to technology integration in my colleagues’ teaching? And can I truly succeed in my efforts and sustain true peer coaching relationships with colleagues? Perhaps more importantly, can I extend and sustain the peer coaching model beyond my classroom walls?

My wife works for an aerospace company as a first line manager and often serves as a sounding board when I’m struggling with a concept or issue at work or when I’m just exploring ideas that are new to me. Her undergraduate degree was in elementary education, though she has spent nearly two decades in the business world so our conversations often bridge between the two worlds. I never cease to be amazed at how similar our worlds are (unfortunate salary disparity withstanding) and we often find answers across the divide of public and private sector. With that in mind, I spent the past few weeks exploring the concepts of peer coaching in the world of business with the hope of discovering practical and sustainable practices for maintaining system-wide peer coaching success. What I found was that strong leadership and shared vision are crucial elements to sustained peer coaching success, in business and in education alike, though the idea of a “strong” leader is often misunderstood and “sustainable” is highly dependent on individuals.

Every year Bill Gates commits to reading roughly one book a week. As a librarian, I can’t speak highly enough about how much I value real-world examples of lifelong readers like the Microsoft co-founder. For the past five years Mr. Gates has put out a twice-yearly “Best Books List” (https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books#All). This year’s list was announced yesterday and I was struck by his words regarding one of the books, The Myth of the Strong Leader by Archie Brown.

bill gates quote on leadershipGates: “Brown’s core argument is exactly what his title suggests: despite a worldwide fixation on strength as a positive quality, strong leaders—those who concentrate power and decision-making in their own hands—are not necessarily good leaders. On the contrary, Brown argues that the leaders who make the biggest difference in office, and change millions of lives for the better, are the ones who collaborate, delegate, and negotiate—the ones who recognize that no one person can or should have all the answers.” (Gates, 2016)  

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman explored a similar idea in their research and shared their findings in the Harvard Business Review article “People Who Think They’re Great Coaches Often Aren’t”. They looked at nearly 4000 business leaders who self-identified as “coaches” and who were willing to self-assess and be openly assessed by their peers. What they found was 24% of coaches had a blind spot when it came to their coaching abilities. They saw themselves as successful, though their level of coaching success was in the bottom third of the rankings. In summary: “if you think you’re a good coach but you actually aren’t, this data suggests you may be a good deal worse than you imagined.” (Zenger and Folkman, 2016)

perception vs reality business leadership characteristics

The common thread that arose again and again was the idea of servant leadership. A timeless concept through relatively uncommon in leadership circles in the Western world, both in education and business alike. “Servant leadership is both a leadership philosophy and set of leadership practices. Traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid.’ By comparison, the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.” Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servant_leadership

Robert Greenleaf popularized the term “servant leadership” in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader,” and he went on to found what is now the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership https://www.greenleaf.org/. His work was instrumental in bringing the seemingly oxymoronic idea of a servant leader into the world of business management.

servant leadership guiding principles Bill Gates is often cited as an example of a successful servant leader, both in his time as founder and CEO of Microsoft and subsequently his charitable work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, has often shared about the value he places in servant leadership (New York Times 2015 Op-Ed). In announcing his upcoming retirement this week, Schultz shared the timing was right because of my confidence in the strategy, my confidence in the team, and my deep deep respect for Kevin Johnson as a servant leader.”

So what does all of this mean for educators? What lessons can we take from the business world? There is no shortcut to a sustained and successful peer coaching system-wide model. It takes great effort. Be patient. Our efforts today may not come to fruition until far down the road. Small steps now set the path for colleagues to follow. It’s a continual process of honest self-reflection and improvement. Open communication can remove many of the roadblocks to successful peer coaching relationships. Remember the coaches who self-assessed themselves as “great”… If you think you have all of the answers, you don’t.  And it requires strong leadership. Foltos writes: “Changing a school’s culture is something that coaches cannot do on their own…  The school needs formal leaders that are committed to defining and implementing a culture of collaboration focused on continuous improvement of teaching and learning.” (Foltos, 2013, pg. 180).  So there is no silver bullet, but the world of business can provide excellent real-world examples of the value of coaching and collaboration.


Gates, B. (2016, December 5). What makes a great leader? Retrieved from https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-Myth-of-the-Strong-Leader

Crippen, C. (2010). Serve, teach, and lead: It’s all about relationships. InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 5, 27-36. Retrieved from http://insightjournal.park.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/2-Serve-Teach-and-Lead-Its-All-About-Relationships.pdf ERIC Number: EJ902861

Foltos, L. (2015, February). Principals boost coaching’s impact. JSD | The Learning Forward Journal, 36(1), 48-51,61. Retrieved from https://learningforward.org/docs/default-source/jsd-february-2015/principals-boost-coaching’s-impact.pdf

Foltos, L. (2013). Sustaining coaching and building capacity. In Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration.

Friedman, S. (2010, February 23). Honing your skills as a peer coach | Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2010/02/honing-your-skills-as-a-peer-c

Friedman, S. (2015, March 13). How to get your team to coach each other | Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/03/how-to-get-your-team-to-coach-each-other.html

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. (n.d.). What is servant leadership? Retrieved from https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/#

Heskett, J. (2013, May 1). Why isn’t servant leadership more prevalent? Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2013/05/01/why-isnt-servant-leadership-more-prevalent/#314983f94c36

Jewett, P., & MacPhee, D. (2012). Adding Collaborative Peer Coaching to Our Teaching Identities. The Reading Teacher, 66(2), 105-110. doi:10.1002/trtr.01089

Kanter, R. M. (2009, August 12). Change is hardest in the middle | Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2009/08/change-is-hardest-in-the-middl

Mashihi, S., & Nowack, K. (2012, July 17). Clueless part 1: Three necessary conditions for initiating and sustaining successful behavior change. Retrieved from https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/Learning-Executive-Blog/2012/07/Clueless-Part-1

Morgan, H. (n.d.). Howard J. Morgan resources. Retrieved from http://www.howardjmorgan.com/coaching.html

Schultz, H. (2015, August 6). Howard Schultz: America deserves a servant leader – The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/06/opinion/america-deserves-a-servant-leader.html

Spears, L. (n.d.). Ten principles of servant leadership | Butler.edu. Retrieved from https://www.butler.edu/volunteer/resources/ten-principles-servant-leadership

Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2016, June 23). People who think they’re great coaches often aren’t | Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/06/people-who-think-theyre-great-coaches-often-arent

ISTE-Coaching Standards


Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessment

  1. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences

Standard 6: Content Knowledge and Professional Growth

  1. Engage in continuous learning to deepen professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions in organizational change and leadership, project management, and adult learning to improve professional practice
  2. Regularly evaluate and reflect on their professional practice and dispositions to improve and strengthen their ability to effectively model and facilitate technology-enhanced learning experiences

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